This romantic comedy of beginnings and endings challenges believability

Debuting on the continent after selling out its initial run at the Hampstead Theatre in 2013, this contemporary play by first-time playwright Peter Souter seeks to bring 21st century romance to the stage. The initial premise is good: illustrating the beginning and end of a relationship by showing a couple move in together in act one, only to move out again ten years later in act two. The plot’s execution, however, does not hold up.

Starting with the somewhat contrived notion that two total strangers would mistakenly sign a lease on the same flat, argue at length about who gets to keep it, then, even after the threat of physical violence, simply combust into spontaneous passion and decide they should live together after knowing each other for less than a day. But romantic comedies have always stretched suspension of disbelief and can be forgiven as long as they deliver. Sadly, Hello/Goodbye doesn’t. Far too often it mistakes zippy, witty one-liners – of which, to be fair, there are many – with real characters and development.

While the actors – Shaun Chambers as Alex and Madeleine Knight as Juliet – deliver solid performances, even they can only get so much out of their tragically two-dimensional protagonists. Juliet is shrill, an untrustworthy, self-centered cartoon of the emotionally numb career climber who secretly yearns for real intimacy and family. Even for a character who’s supposed to be initially unlikable, she’s hard to digest – and never comes back from behind to win our hearts with redeeming qualities. Alex on the other hand, works better as an introverted, obsessive-compulsive geek – if only he wouldn’t consistently go against character. Lovable nerds can indeed be viable romeos, but are unlikely to brag about their apparent sexual prowess, or remain completely nonplussed at the prospect of  a beating by a rugby player.  How these two cardboard cut-outs ended up in bed together, let alone held on for a decade, remains a complete mystery. One that Hello/Goodbye can’t and won’t solve.

by Peter Souter
Through Apr 16 (except Sun), 19:30, Vienna’s English Theatre